Lucy Oates finds that there really is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.
When I mentioned that my family, along with our two dogs, would be enjoying a short break on the Northumberland coast before spring had officially sprung, the general advice was “wrap up warm”’.
As it turns out, it’s the perfect time to visit. After all, us dog walkers are a hardy bunch, who are used to getting out and enjoying the countryside in all weathers. My family and I relished the fact that we had vast, unspoilt beaches practically to ourselves and could explore villages that, were not filled with day-trippers.
Although we inevitably encountered a little wind and rain, there was plenty of sunshine and even a light scattering of snow, which only added to the bleak beauty of Northumberland’s wonderfully rugged landscapes. Kitted out in several layers of warm clothes and Wellington boots, we familiarised ourselves with the stretch of coastline between Bamburgh in the north and Morpeth in the south.
Northumberland is blessed with many beautiful beaches.It’s pretty much doggie heaven judging by the gleeful reaction of our German Shepherd and Labrador. Many beaches are flanked by stunning dunes, including the swathe of sand that links the the small seaside town of Seahouses with the village of Bamburgh. Strolling among them you get a close-up view of one of Northumberland’s most impressive sights – Bamburgh Castle which dates back to 547, although much of what you see today was built in Victorian times. We picked up fish and chips at Seahouses and parked up close to the castle to enjoy an al fresco lunch with a view.
Northumberland was historically the scene of a great deal of conflict and its many castles are the legacy of this. Although some are now picturesque ruins, including the one at Dunstanburgh, others, such as Alnwick Castle, are popular attractions. The castle at Warkworth, perched on a hilltop in the heart of the village, is particularly impressive. Warkworth itself is a charming place to stop off.
Craster, home of the famous oak-smoked kippers, is a picture postcard kind of a village, despite the fact that the skies were grey and moody, and enormous waves were crashing ominously beyond the tiny little harbour when we visited. Stop off at the Jolly Fisherman pub for the freshest crab sandwiches you’ve ever tasted.
From Warkworth, the drive down the coast towards Amble is particularly beautiful as the road closely follows the course of the River Coquet towards the sea. It’s sometimes possible to spot seals.
One of our favourite discoveries was Druridge Bay Country Park, just south of Amble which comprises three miles of beach – one of the most beautiful that I’ve seen – and sand dunes, alongside a large freshwater lake surrounded by woods and meadows.
There’s a children’s play area and visitor centre, although the café was unfortunately closed when we were there. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a picnic and you could easily spend a full day there in warmer weather.
Instead, we continued down the coast to Widdrington, where we had delicious homemade cakes and hot chocolate at The Country Barn farm shop.
Our base in Northumberland was The Old Post Office, a self-catering property in the village of Alnmouth, which sits pretty at the mouth of the River Aln. Ideal for larger groups of family and friends, the house sleeps up to 11 people.
It has a vast living space made up of two lounge areas, a huge dining room and a well-equipped kitchen. Although these areas can be separated by closing the double doors between the reception rooms, with two large dogs and a toddler running around the place, the open plan space worked well for us. We soon had the two wood burners roaring, and it was a cosy place to come back to after a day out walking.
Alnmouth retains an old-world charm. There’s a handy General Store with a fantastic delicatessen counter; a lovely gift shop and gallery; and a great choice of pubs. We especially liked the Hope and Anchor, which is dog and child friendly, and serves hearty grub. Part of the pub has been converted into an Italian restaurant, which also offers takeaways. We thoroughly enjoyed the authentic Italian-style pizzas, and the linguine topped with a generous mound of mussels was a big hit.
The beach is just a couple of minutes from The Old Post Office and, leaving my husband and our little girl back at the house breakfasting, I savoured the opportunity to sneak out at 8am for a peaceful walk with the dogs. We took a circular route that led us down by the golf course, along the beach, round to the mouth of the river and a little way along the estuary. With the sun shining, the chilly early morning air pinching my cheeks and only the dogs, seagulls and Oyster Catchers for company, I can’t think of a nicer way to start the day.